Nation & World

Poll finds millions of Americans joining protests

1 in 5 have been in demonstrations or rallies since 2016

A stoplight is barely visible in the middle of the crowd as thousands on March 24 pack Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Despite the recent focus on young protesters, a Post-Kaiser poll finds that a large share of those who have demonstrated in the streets or attended rallies since the start of 2016 — 44 percent — are over age 50. (Toni L. Sandys/Washington Post)
A stoplight is barely visible in the middle of the crowd as thousands on March 24 pack Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Despite the recent focus on young protesters, a Post-Kaiser poll finds that a large share of those who have demonstrated in the streets or attended rallies since the start of 2016 — 44 percent — are over age 50. (Toni L. Sandys/Washington Post)
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WASHINGTON — Tens of millions of Americans have joined protests and rallies in the past two years, their activism often driven by admiration or outrage toward President Donald Trump, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing a new activism that could affect November elections.

One in five Americans have protested in the streets or participated in political rallies since the beginning of 2016. Of those, 19 percent said they had never before joined a march or a political gathering.

Overwhelmingly, recently motivated activists are critical of Trump. Thirty percent approve of the president, and 70 percent disapprove, according to the poll. And many said they plan to be more involved politically this year, with about one-third saying they intend to volunteer or work for a 2018 congressional campaign.

More Americans are taking their activism to the streets. The new Post-Kaiser survey finds that 20 percent of adults have attended a political protest, rally or speech in the last two years.

The poll offers a rare snapshot of how public activism has changed in the 50 years since large street protests and rallies last dominated the political landscape. Back in the turbulent Vietnam War era, college students were the face of protests. Today, many activists are older, white, well-educated and wealthy, the findings show.

A significant number — 44 percent — are 50 or older, and 36 percent earn more than $100,000 a year. Far more are Democrats than Republicans. An equal percentage are men and women. An outsize share live in the suburbs.

The Post-Kaiser poll is the most extensive study of rallygoers and protesters in more than a decade and one of the first attempts to quantify how many Americans are motivated by Trump to join these increasingly frequent political events.

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According to the findings, 10 percent of all adults said they joined a rally or protest since the beginning of 2016 as a reaction to Trump. Six percent turned out to oppose Trump, and 4 percent did so to support him.

“I never thought I was an activist — until now,” said Anna Bralove, 69. The day after Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, she joined the massive Women’s March in Washington, her first political gathering.

With a busy job training people on ever-changing computer systems, Bralove for decades never felt the need to spend precious free time protesting. But recently, she said, “I looked up and saw life wasn’t what we thought.” Now, she said, she has lost her trust in those in power, both in Congress and the White House.

So, to be heard and counted, she joined a second women’s rights march in Florida near her home early this year. More recently, she flew to Washington for the March for Our Lives to push for more restrictive gun laws, one of 800 rallies held around the nation the same day. Standing in a sea of protesters near the White House, Bralove said she is frightened that Trump is in the Oval Office.

“He terrifies me,” she said. “I don’t think he has a grasp of the issues. I don’t think he cares, and I think he lies.”

But Chris Borgers, a Trump fan who plans to vote for him again in 2020, sees the president as a rare politician worth making the effort to hear in person.

During the presidential race, Borgers, 61, got an email from the Trump campaign inviting him to attend a rally in Phoenix. He is not sure how the campaign got his address, but he downloaded the ticket and went.

“It could not have been simpler,” said Borgers, 61, who lives outside Phoenix. That was the first rally of his life.

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Borgers loved being with like-minded people and other military veterans. “I liked the energy, the vibe,” he said.

Borgers said the only other candidate he admired who might have drawn him to a political rally was Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but back then, he was stationed on a Navy ship.

A registered Republican, Borgers said his party no longer reflected his views, and he cheered Trump’s break with the GOP establishment.

“I saw him as a change agent and thought the Republican Party should be punched in the nose,” he said.

Half of those attending political gatherings were spurred to action at least partly by Trump. Many also turned out to express their views on a range of issues — most prominently women’s rights, the environment, immigration, LGBT rights, Obamacare, abortion, police shootings or gun laws.

Of those showing up for an event, 52 percent rallied solely for liberal causes such as supporting the Affordable Care Act or opposing stricter immigration policies. At the same time, 12 percent attended events exclusively to support conservative positions.

“This confirms there is a resistance and that a lot of people want to be associated with it,” said Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine. He said many Americans intensely oppose what Trump is doing, just as many did in the second half of Lyndon Johnson’s term in the late 1960s.

Dottie Taylor, 57, who lives outside Decatur, Ill., said she is particularly upset with Trump’s attack on President Barack Obama’s efforts to get more people affordable health care. Walking on crutches because of nerve damage in her ankle, she has joined some marches and participated in others via live video on her phone.

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In addition to the large number of rallygoers, the poll showed an even bigger number — over 1 in 4 — of more quietly politically active adults.

These people took multiple political actions, such as volunteering for a campaign, joining a boycott or donating money. These “nuts and bolts” activists are about as likely to identify as Republicans as Democrats.

A century ago, suffragists marched to win women’s right to vote. Fifty years ago, protesters pushed for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War.

But yet tens of millions of Americans do not even vote. Roughly 40 percent of those eligible to cast a ballot have not voted in recent presidential elections, according to the U.S. Elections Project. In midterm years, about 60 percent have skipped voting.

Increasing voter turnout could affect November’s midterms, which will determine which party controls the congressional chambers. Republicans now hold the majority in both the Senate and the House.

According to the poll, 83 percent of rallygoers and protesters say they are certain to vote.

Nearly 4 in 10 said they plan to become more involved in political causes in 2018. Among the one-third who planned to work or volunteer for congressional races, 64 percent say they will do so for Democrats, and 26 percent plan to work for Republicans.

The poll was conducted in the first two months of this year among a random sample of 1,850 adults nationwide, including 832 who attended a protest or rally in the last two years.

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